Sunday, January 09, 2011

On Political Violence

The shootings in Arizona were a terrible thing, no doubt about it. I'm tsking along with everybody else. But here's the thing.

Government is the institutionalization of violence, and democracy is the institutionalization of internal power struggles among interest groups. We are fed ideas about the splendor and glory of its rituals, buildings, and documents, but the underlying foundation remains what it is.

As something of an ex-anarchist, I recognize that institutionalization of violence is on the whole much better than free-floating, chaotic, unconstrained violence, which seems to be the alternative until the messiah comes and the lion lies down with the lamb. So by all means, let us have the best government we can manage, let us keep our political discourse polite, let us try and work out our conflicts with words and ballots rather than with fists and guns. But let us not be surprised when those efforts occasionally fail, because power, coercion, and violence underlie the whole elaborate machinery and sometimes the gears and wires poke through the surface.

The way things are shaking out in the US political system is that one side is willing and eager to deploy the rhetoric of violence while the other side mostly does not (despite that once in office they are just as willing to deploy actual violence). One side is rural and barbaric, the other is cosmopolitan and slick. One side celebrates raw power, while the other likes to pretend it doesn't exist. I'm culturally in the latter camp of course. I want to live in a peaceful, rational, and sane world. But in some twisted and perverse way I appreciate the existence of the former, because while the Democrats like to sweep power and madness under the rug, the Republicans gleefully turn the rug over and make all that stuff visible again.

[[update: Here's someone applying Bruno Latour to the analysis of agency in this situation. As is typical of my reaction to Latourianisms, I can't decide if it's deeply profound or blindingly obvious.]]

[[update: Political violence is as American as apple pie, says a history professor apparently actually named "LaFantasie"]]


David Xavier said...

Leaving aside your crude hypocritcal partisan reductionism. After all , what more can be said when you start describing people as 'barbarian' hillbillys who are against a "peaceful, rational, and sane world". Well , after what President Bush had to endure from the 'slick cosmopolitans' I think finding rhetorical violence depends on the eye of the beholder....just as what a 'peaceful rational sane world' consists of and how we get there is. By dealing in caricatures to marginalise one group of citizens,allows one to avoid dealing with oppostion to one's ideological world veiw and the investment one has made in imposing it on everybody else.

In the Fort Hood mass killing , the motivations of the gunman were what? The religious ideology that we dare not speak its name? The connections were pretty strong , and the religious ideology in question is "willing and eager to deploy the rhetoric of violence". Of course , we were told not to jump to conclusions about the guman's motivations , and this was echoed in the media quite strongly.

In Arizona , we have an obviously mentally ill person who is talking about mind control through poor grammar. Who ranted against politics in general , whose Congress woman happened to be a Democrat, who happened to be in close proximity in a public space which provided an opportunity for the mentally ill person to act out. Should we jump to conclusions?... hell yeah , it was those rural teabaggin' barbarians and Sarah Palin deploying rhetoric violence. Dont need evidence of any connections or linkages because 'slick cosmopolitans' which , by definiton includes the majority of the media.. can draw these conclusions out of thin air...because you have your caricatures and because you want your version of a " peaceful , rational and sane" world. To achieve such a vision the 'other side' must be de-humanised and de-legitimised by any means possible ... they are, after all, only rural barbarians who pursue madness and power .... gleefully at that.

TGGP said...

Radley Balko says something similar, but with more specific examples, as does IOZ.

The shooter doesn't seem to be a gear/wire poking through the surface but just an out-there pothead. Just as the extremely depressed can't muster the will to kill themselves, what I've heard about him makes it surprising he carried it out. Better watch out for TimeCube guy.

mr waggish said...

mtraven said...

Thanks for the pointer, but we're on that already.

fsascott said...

You write " side is willing and eager to deploy the rhetoric of violence while the other side mostly does not... One side is rural and barbaric, the other is cosmopolitan and slick."

Your notion that the right has a near-monopoly on violent rhetoric is easily exploded by examining what liberals have said about George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, etc. I could quote hundreds of examples. Here are just a few:

"You guys see Live and Let Die, the great Bond film with Yaphet Kotto as the bad guy, Mr. Big? In the end they jam a big CO2 pellet in his face and he blew up. I have to tell you, Rush Limbaugh is looking more and more like Mr. Big, and at some point somebody's going to jam a CO2 pellet into his head and he's going to explode like a giant blimp. That day may come. Not yet. But we'll be there to watch. I think he's Mr. Big, I think Yaphet Kotto. Are you watching, Rush?" - Chris Matthews, on MSNBC, Oct. 13, 2009

"I have zero doubt that if Dick Cheney was not in power, people wouldn't be dying needlessly tomorrow... I'm just saying if he did die, other people, more people would live. That's a fact." - Bill Maher, regretting that a 2007 assassination attempt on Cheney did not succeed.

"...And then there's Rumsfeld who said of Iraq, 'We have our good days and our bad days.' We should put this S.O.B. up against a wall and say 'This is one of our bad days' and pull the trigger." - fund-raising ad put out by the St. Petersburg Democratic Club, 2004.

More can be supplied upon request.

fsascott said...

Democratic map with bullseyes on Republican districts:

Leftist attempts to shoot up school board meeting, then shoots himself:

It is striking how such examples never get the publicity that those do which can, however implausibly, be used to suggest that the right has a near-monopoly on violent rhetoric and political violence.

mtraven said...

Thanks for utterly missing the point.

fsascott said...

I understand your point well enough. But you indeed wrote, didn't you, that "one side is willing and eager to deploy the rhetoric of violence while the other side mostly does not..." This is plainly not true, and these examples are offered in refutation of that statement.

Here's another: the Daily Kos placed a bull's-eye on Gabrielle Giffords back in June of 2008:


It is opportunistic charlatanry of the flimsiest tissue to blame the Giffords shooting on some sort of peculiar right-wing attachment to violent rhetoric and imagery. There is plenty of it on the left as well.

I agree with you that government rests upon violence, and operates by it or its threat regardless of who may be in charge. It's the nature of the beast, and futile to hope this will ever be otherwise. That is why I believe in limiting government's scope and authority.